While the gates were once opened only for the king, today they are always closed, and so the gates have in a way become a sacred space themselves, representative of the actual sacred space behind them. Many travellers and locals come to pray at the gates.
The stone gate was first built in 1519, during the reign of Ryukyuan king Shō Shin, though the space had been recognized as a sacred utaki prior to that. Whenever the king left the castle on a journey, he would first stop at Sonohyan-utaki to pray for safe travels. The site also played an important role in the initiation of the High Priestess of the native religion.
The gate is said to be a prime example of traditional Okinawan architecture, and shows many signs of Chinese influence, along with a Japanese-influenced gable in the karahafu style. It was severely damaged in the 1945 battle of Okinawa, but was restored in 1957, and officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, along with a number of other sites acrossOkinawa Island. The utaki, i.e. the sacred grove itself, was once much larger than it is today, an elementary school and other buildings having encroached upon the space.
This sight is featured in a self-guided walking tour of Naha, Japan within the mobile app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" which can be downloaded from iTunes App Store or Google Play. Please download the app to your mobile phone or tablet for travel directions for visiting this sight. The app turns your mobile device to a personal tour guide and it works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.
Sonohyan-utaki on Map
Walking Tours in Naha, Japan
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 km
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.9 km